|NY Times 2011|
Life is truly amazing. From anglerfish to dinoflagellates, ninety percent of deep sea organisms (number of organisms, not species) manage to create their own light down within the depths of the ocean, known as bioluminescence. These organisms produce the necessary photoproteins, luciferins, and enzymes, luciferase, that react with oxygen to produce light. This self-made light helps organisms find food, find mates, call for help ("burglar alarm") and even to defend against predators by shooting "photon torpedoes."
Not only do aquatic organisms use bioluminescence for their own benefit, now humans are using this same chemical reaction to understand pollution levels in water bodies. Dr. Widder and her colleagues at the Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA) have invented a water-quality monitor, the Kilroy, that can quickly assess bioluminescence activity with a bathyphotometer. Bioluminescence is known to be an indicator of pollution levels (a bioindicator). The more toxic an environment is, the less bioluminescence.
In addition to measuring bioluminescence, the Kilroy is equipped with other sensors that monitor water temperature, flow speed, flow direction, water level and the global position of the unit. This data is sent in real time wirelessly to a central computer that compiles the data to give an overall view of the properties of a water body at any given time. This data will hopefully "shed light" on pollution in our waterways that otherwise is invisible and at many times goes unnoticed until the problem is beyond repair.
“It’s my belief if we can make pollution visible, and let people know what small things they are doing are actually making an improvement in this incredible environment,” she said, “I think it could make a huge difference. It can be a game-changer.” (Dr. Widder, NY Times article)
Dr. Widder was recently mentioned in the NY Times. The article has fabulous photos of bioluminescence.